Security Special Section

Beyond Your School's Lockdown Plan

Pulling a gun out of a backpack

PHOTO © MARK COFFEY

It has been quite the process, but your school’s lockdown plan is complete, and you’re breathing a sigh of relief. Are you ready for this? Once your school’s lockdown plan is finalized, you can’t simply check it off your “to do” list and file it in a drawer. In fact, it’s safe to argue that creating the plan is just the beginning. In addition to understanding that your lockdown plan needs to be updated annually, here are six other things else you need to know once it’s complete.

1. STAFF TRAINING SHOULD BE ONGOING.

Twice a year, administrators in the Boise School District (BSD) in Idaho and their first responders engage staff in lockdown drills. “We have a saying around here,” says Mike Munger, BSD Safety and Security manager. “‘Is the water getting all the way to the end of the row?’ When it comes to staff training, we want to be sure everyone is learning what’s being taught.”

The best indicator that the water is getting all the way to the end of the row is via testing at the end of training. “We want to make sure staff understands and executes lockdown plans well,” says Munger. “So testing indicates either the good news that everything went well or the bad news that we have a lot more that needs to be done in terms of getting people the information.”

The BSD team clearly understands that lockdown plans can’t gather dust in a filing cabinet. They know those plans include regular training, and that means consistently and repetitively offered instruction and simulation. Book learning is important, but follow through with application of that knowledge allows staff a better idea of what to expect during a lockdown, the ability to identify weaknesses, the ability to clarify something that may have seemed gray or unimportant, and the opportunity to build confidence. “The important component is practice to know that what you’re training is being effectively delivered,” Munger affirms. “That’s the bottom line for most everything we’re doing.”

Finally, training can, and should, be reinforced in brief written communication. For example, you may include tips or reminders in weekly staff announcements or via a monthly safety and security newsletter.

2. DRILLS SHOULD BE CONDUCTED AS MANDATED.

The ability to safely and efficiently address a hazardous situation — whether a fire, an intruder or a natural disaster — helps save lives. But its success relies on the people and protocols in place. Therefore, regardless of which recommended lockdown system a school uses, drills should be practiced on a regular basis, as mandated by state law. All staff — even substitutes and support personnel — and students must be trained on procedures to ensure that everyone knows exactly what do and where to go in the case of an emergency.

Consider, too, the possibility of having each class review drills after the fact. This offers a platform for students to clarify terminology (What’s the difference between a lockdown and a reverse lockdown?) and “what if” scenarios. Teachers can forward information gleaned to the safety and security team with the goal of improving the process.

3. LOCKDOWN PROCEDURES SHOULD BE REGULARLY EVALUATED.

Change is constant. For instance, schools undergo renovations. Similarly, safety guidelines are updated based on best practices and new information so that they’re focused on the reliable and proven. For example, where a system of codes used to be employed to indicate situations, administrators are now taught to announce the situation as it is. Similarly, In March 2015, the Ohio Revised Code was revised to state that, if a school has smoke detectors or a sprinkler system in all classrooms, then fire drills conducted during the school year may be reduced from nine to six.

Therefore, it’s critical to evaluate your lockdown procedures on a regular basis, making changes and enhancements to ensure information is timely and relevant. “We recommend that schools reevaluate their crisis planning on an annual basis,” says Dr. Ronald Stephens, executive director of Westlake Village, Calif.-based National School Safety Center, which serves as an advocate for safe, secure and peaceful schools worldwide and as a catalyst for the prevention of school crime and violence. “You could also make the statement to do it on an ongoing basis, because it is a living document. But generally it’s reasonable and appropriate to evaluate your procedures on an annual basis.”

The same team who worked to create the procedures should be involved in the review, especially the principal at the school level and the superintendent at the district level, but also including first responders.

In the process, shy away from new, though well intended, technologies that are still untested to avoid the potential risk they may pose building occupants. And Stephens adds to be sure to put together a mutual aid agreement that identifies roles and responsibilities of all who are involved in crisis management.

Upon completion of the review, be sure to clearly and thoroughly communicate any changes made to administration, staff, teachers and students, using a variety of communication tools, such as your Website (community) and intranet (staff and teachers), email (parents), and verbal (during both staff training and student PA announcements). Be sure to include bus drivers in your communication, Stephens advises, “as they need to understand the pick up and drop off options and have some familiarity with potential reunification points.”

4. KEEP PHYSICAL ASSETS IN GOOD REPAIR VIA REGULARLY SCHEDULED MAINTENANCE, AND REPLACE OR UPGRADE WHEN NECESSARY.

Schools’ needs are always greater than their budgets. A maintenance program helps ensure that each building’s physical assets stay in good working order and last their intended life spans, thereby preventing or even eliminating deferred maintenance challenges. To that end, Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) software is vital to a successful maintenance program in that it provides an accurate record of all physical assets, ensures the ability to schedule and track maintenance tasks, and provides a historical record of the work performed.

Beyond maintenance, there are times when physical assets naturally wear out or safer, more durable products become available, and replacement is required. For instance, many administrators are replacing standard door knobs with security locks on classroom doors for greater security.

“Having good people and good plans are built on a foundation of people being able to execute those plans,” Munger affirms. “If you have door systems that don’t work, your people won’t be able to effectively manage an incident, should one occur.” He adds that it’s easy to throw money at a problem and not think through whether it’ll be operationally effective for your school, so he advocates for a well thought-out plan that works within the confines of the equipment you do have and ensuring that the equipment is kept up to specification, as well as up and running throughout normal daily operations.

5. KEEP TECHNOLOGY IN GOOD REPAIR VIA REGULARLY SCHEDULED MAINTENANCE, AND UPGRADE WHEN NECESSARY.

Walkie talkies, PA systems (both internal and external), panic buttons, video cameras, visitor management software. All of these valuable tools must be kept in good working order so they are ready to assist at a moment’s notice in a lockdown situation. Be sure they are maintained on a schedule commensurate with the manufacturers’ recommendations so minor problems can be discovered and addressed before they become major issues. If you haven’t already, be sure to add them to your CMMS.

In a similar vein, there are times when technology needs to be upgraded, maybe because something is faulty, maybe because the technology has improved. When the time comes, gather data and facts, which will carry some weight as you advocate for the upgrade in a budget-constrained environment, and remind all decision makers of the main agenda: keeping students safe. As already mentioned, use caution when upgrading, avoiding untested technologies which, simply because they haven’t proven themselves by standing the test of time, may pose more risk than benefit in the even of a lockdown.

6. MAINTAIN EFFECTIVE WORKING RELATIONSHIPS WITH FIRST RESPONDERS.

All lockdown plans should be created and periodically reviewed in coordination with local first responders. “We need them during our development and planning phases,” says Munger. “If we don’t include them then, we’ve missed a huge opportunity to make sure our plans are effective and will respond to what they imagine will happen when they respond to a threat in a school.” Once development and planning is done, effective working relationships should be maintained. As Munger says, “I do not want to be exchanging business cards with local first responders in an emergency.”

Consider regularly scheduled meetings, designed to discuss changes, future plans, ongoing trends and changes in industry standards at a high level. BSD conducts these meetings with all local agencies on a quarterly basis. “Where the rubber meets the road is with weekly meetings at the local building level,” says Munger. “Sometimes there are even daily meetings for school resource officers: What’s going on today? And certainly, the more face time there is between school administrators and first responders, the better that relationship becomes, the more they’re are able to trust each other, the more they know what each party brings to the table and the more they know what to expect if a situation does break lose.”

Because no two schools are the same, there are no one-size-fits-all lockdown plans. Rather, they must be customized to each school’s specific physical environment and first responders’ capabilities, with the intent of minimizing the spread of violence and increasing the safety of students, employees and visitors. Beyond the lockdown plan, there’s still constant, ongoing effort required to ensure the plan works as intended. “It’s quite the team operation,” Stephens concludes.

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

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